By Jennifer MacKay
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Additional resources for Forensic Biology (Crime Scene Investigations)
No skull was present, but just the same, investigators deduced that the bones were those of a twelve-year-old girl. “The sheriff informed the media, who ran with these ‘facts’ to blast the populace of Albuquerque with stories on television, on the radio, and in print,”38 Rhine says. Several days later, the pathologist examining the bones discovered the ribcage had too many ribs to belong to a human. It was, in fact, the skeleton of a bear—a fact that an anthropologist would have realized far sooner, had one been called to collect and analyze the bones.
Victims of self-inflicted gunshot wounds have even been found still clutching the gun stiffly in their hand because rigor mortis set in by the time the body is discovered. Like livor mortis, rigor mortis can give investigators a rough estimate of the time of death. It narrows down the possible time of the murder to a period of six to twelve hours, perhaps giving the pathologist an idea as to whether the victim was killed on a Tuesday evening or a Wednesday morning. Rigor mortis also can be unpredictable.
The reason submerged bodies bob back up has to do with the decomposition process. Bacteria instantly go to work inside a dead body, eating tissue and reproducing rapidly. These bacteria are anaerobic, meaning they do not require oxygen and other gases. Thus, they survive just as well underwater as anywhere. They do, however, create gases of their own as a byproduct of their feast on the body’s tissues. As these gases build up under the skin, the dead body becomes a gas-filled buoy, gruesomely announcing its final resting place.